Lobbying transparency and environmental groups warn of power of corporate firms after Ineos boss found pressuring ex-Tory chancellor for tax cuts
JIM RATCLIFFE, the chief executive of the Ineos fracking giant with fossil fuel facility at Grangemouth, secretly lobbied the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to attack unions, cut his firm’s taxes and support fracking.
Responding to the revelations, lobbying transparency and environmental charities warned of the dangers of corporate entities influencing government policy in the areas of workers rights and environmental protection.
“When corporations are given privileged access to ministers without being subject to scrutiny public trust in the system is corroded.” Alexandra Runswick
Speaking about the exposed relationship to CommonSpace Alexandra Runswick, a spokesperson for the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, said: “When the government set out their plans for the Westminster lobbying register, introduced in 2015, the register was purposely limited to a very narrow definition of lobbying. They justified this on the grounds that when coupled with ministerial meetings data, the register would give the public a sufficiently complete picture of lobbying that was taking place.
“This is a clear example of how insufficient existing transparency measures are for giving the public a clear understanding of who is lobbying the government, and on what policy issues. We know that INEOS employed a lobbying agency, and we know they met with Mr Osborne to discuss policy; however, it is only through a Freedom of Information request and the diligent work of journalists that the precise details of the meeting have come to light.
“When corporations are given privileged access to ministers without being subject to scrutiny public trust in the system is corroded, as it gives the impression that government decisions are being made in secret, behind closed doors.”
In addition to the meetings in 2013, Treasury documents showed that Ratcliffe had previously written a 100-page presentation to the cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood in 2012. In the presentation, Ratcliffe describes workers pension schemes that provide for the welfare of the retired as a “national disaster” because they were costing corporations such as his billions every year. Furthermore, the fracking chief demanded the UK remove the right to strike from unionised workers on issues of pension changes.
“This is a clear example of how insufficient existing transparency measures are.” Alexandra Runswick
Runswick added: “Accountability requires transparency, and the government should be open about who officials are meeting with, and what is being discussed. The publication of detailed ministerial diaries, coupled with the implementation of a comprehensive lobbying register in Westminster, would go a long way to capturing the wide range of interests that are seeking to exert influence on the government, and would enable the public and parliamentary scrutiny that is so vital in a democracy.”
Fracking, which is formally known as hydraulic fracturing, is a deeply controversial in the US because of its environmental and health impacts. In a 2013 study, experts found that the growth of fracking in America had resulted in an increase of severe health risks because of exposure to chemicals used in the fracking process. After fracking began in Oklahoma it has been linked to a rise in the number of earthquakes in the state from two in 2014 to 585 in 2015.
Ineos have been pushing the Scottish Government to lift its temporary moratorium on fracking. However, the Scottish Government, also lobbied by environmental charities such as Friends of the Earth Scotland and WWF Scotland, has concluded a public consultation recently which many expect will result in a full ban or maintenance of the moratorium.
“Jim Ratcliffe demonstrates substantially more concern for his own pocket than the conditions and wellbeing of workers at his plants here in Scotland and around the world.” Mary Church
After reopening its gas facility to begin importing US shale and fracked gas, Ratcliffe has made the argument that fracking gas in Scotland would create and economic boom.
Yet the company also came under fire last year for its public relations drive which some have claimed was an attempt to “buy favourable coverage” for the company and its interests.
Friends of the Earth Scotland’s head of campaigns Mary Church told CommonSpace: “Communities across the central belt threatened by fracking will find grim reading in these dirty lobbying secrets which completely undermine Ineos’s insistence on the need for shale gas to protect jobs at Grangemouth, and make it clear that the company’s motives are far more profit-driven.
“In lobbying to suppress union rights, cut corporation and higher-rate income tax, billionaire venture capitalist Jim Ratcliffe demonstrates substantially more concern for his own pocket than the conditions and wellbeing of workers at his plants here in Scotland and around the world.”
CommonSpace approached Ineos for comment, but they had not responded by the time of publication.
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